Pros: SQ, SQ, SQ, SQ ....................
Cons: Primitive UI, 4 to 7 hour battery, gets very hot
I typically run and hide when someone wants me to listen to a transparent device thinking, oh no, another weak, lifeless, and non-fun way to listen to music. But here I stand singing praise for the Aune family and my Hidition NT6pros which are known for their stellar transparencies. What I am trying to say is that IMO the HD800 is an example of something that is done wrong, unless driven correctly bring it to life. Yes I love the HD800 and will eventually buy one – especially with the new JJ triple tweak mod setup that I am using on my HD700s right now. But out of the box played through an underpowered, bright source/chain can be painful at best. The Aune family and the NT6 on the other hand are versions of transparency that actually bring dynamic life to the party. You just have to hear them yourself to understand what I mean. However, I will do my best to explain below.
Disclaimer: This was a tour DAP that came with the B1 amp in tow. I did not buy this setup ......... yet. Only because I am trying to decide if I am going to go for the upgraded Pro version. Anyways, this is from a week of listening to a tour DAP/AMP stack. I tried it alone and stacked as you will see in my notes below.
M2 Stack/Single: Wow, other than the Paw Gold, this is the only other no stack DAP. No need for an amp, it is clear, full-sized, wide/deep, and full bass response.
Alone: By itself, the M2 is very full sized sounding with fantastic bass quantity and quality that makes it stand out without muddying the mids. The signature has enough spaciousness that it doesn't justify an amp either. I would love to hear the M2 and PAW side by side, but they are very similar going from memory with the PAW being a little more elegant and refined. Need an AB to know for sure.
BH2: The BH2 adds a more natural decay or bounce to the base and a little more musical feel, it adds a little more brightness too. While the BH2 addition sounds better to my ears, in a natural fun way, it is not enough to justify the burden of a stack.
B1/CIEMs: The B1 is very close in signature so hard to hear a difference in an AB. It might be a little more clear and a little more wide, but I am splitting hairs. To the uninformed it would sound the same. No value for adding the burden of a stack.
B1/HD700: This is a tossup as it sounds better with the additional power, but for convenience, I would chose to go without. However, if I had the B1 handy, I would use it for the added SQ. The addition here is the ability to turn it up further without fatigue. Turning up with the B1 brings me closer to the music for a more detailed SQ that would be fatiguing without. At night at low level listening, the B1 is not necessary, but I find that when stacked at night I do end up using it which interferes with my intended going to sleep. But it makes for a fun listening session.
B1/LCD2.2: Absolutely needs the B1. Yes, it sounds great direct, but the B1 takes everything to the next level. Direct, the volume is high enough that the treble glare kicks in a bit, but the B1 take that glare away. Better yet, the B1 clearly is a dream combination with the LCD2.2 providing neutrality, transparency, and power that the LCD2.2 needs while effortlessly driving it without adding the treble sharpness many amps do. This is the best I have heard the LCD2.2 on the transparent side of the spectrum. I love the LCD2.2 on a warmer setup too, but I am preferring this pairing as my favorite right now.
M2: This is a very neutral DAP with full extended frequency response.
Build/Looks: While it looks nice enough, it is obviously a mid-range looking product, but then again, so is the $2K Paw Gold. It is not too big or too small, or too anything. It is a good inconspicuous working model that is not likely to get stolen. My AK100ii would get stolen quickly if I left it unattended on a table at Starbucks – the Aune, not so much.
Neutral: This DAP has become my new definition in neutrality as it seems to give equal emphasis across the frequency range from meaty sub bass to delicate cymbal hits to textured mids. I have heard neutral before, but typically comes out as boring and taking the excitement out of everything to play fair. This is not the case, the M2 finds excitement everywhere at the same time.
Treble: Nice smooth highs that add detail without too much fatigue. There is a slight glare when turned up too high, however lower volumes are very full so high volumes are not required for detail. The B1 removes any glare from the treble if this was ever an issue. The high quality clocks have removed the treble harshness that haunts me in much of my audio gear providing treble clarity that I have not heard before with a transparency that gets the noise out of the way so you can hear the most delicate treble sounds such as a light bell tap. The clarity also puts that light bell tap into its own space where you can actually hear the resonance of the bell hit echoing in the staging.
Mids: The extended highs and lows hint at a fun v-shape signature, however, the mids are not recessed at all. The mids are neutral to the rest of the signature, but very rich and detailed thanks to the well-integrated bass/treble to create a rich whole.
Bass: The bass reached nice and low and is fast enough to provide quality and emphasized enough provide a full sized signature. The M2 power shows well here allowing the bass to stand on its own without the need for a separate amp. The bass may have a mid-bass hump for emphysis, but it doesn't step on the sub or mids frequency at all. This is an example of DAP bass done right.
Sound Stage: The full size SQ implies intimate which implies small sound stage. However, while in the 1st row or on stage in placement, you can hear good depth and layering showing off a larger stage with great detail. There is also nice placement and distance between instruments that allows the timbre to shin, especially in instrumental pieces.
Dynamics/Effortlessness: The M2, especially when stacked with the B1 is a great example of effortless dynamics. At low volumes, the spectrum is still punchy, plucky, and dynamic. At higher volumes the M2 gets a treble glare with full sized cans that is eliminated with the B1 stacked. The stack is a great example of effortlessness as it doesn't get louder with volume, just moves you closer to the music adding intimate details like only the highest end overdone equipment can. There seems to be an enormous amount of headroom here.
UI/FW: It works, easy to use, allows you to hear music, without the UI clutter to confuse things. If you are a UI/FW freak, this is not the DAP for you. If you just want to turn it on quickly and listen, this UI is quick and easy.
MicroSD Card: Only one that is fine. Reads faster than I have experienced before. Only reads when changed and automatically. The only downside is that I had issues with one of my MicroSD cards where it had trouble maintaining the library. It would lose the read and freeze or it would rescan and start the list over. Hopefully, it was an issue with just this one card, but I only tried two and it worked fine with the other.
External Buttons: You can use the external buttons to control the music without looking at the screen which is a real plus for me. However, the screen turns on with every button press wasting battery even if I am not looking at it. Hopefully, there is a menu option to disable the screen when using the buttons, but I am too busy enjoying to care during the tour. I am on a mission to hear every song on this DAP, it is that good.
Instant On: While not instant on, it feels like it compared to the rest of the DAPs I have used. It turns on within 5 seconds.
Card Scan: I changed the MicroSD card a few times and was shocked at how fast it scans. I have not timed it, but it seems like it is only about 5 seconds for a full 32gb card. It is crazy fast in comparison to any of the competition. Better yet, it know when I change cards when off, and automatically scans when turned back on. This is MicroSD card management perfected as it is quick and only when needed – automatically.
Battery: 7 hour battery life sucks, but it is the price I pay with all my audiophile level battery operated components with only one exception – the 80 hour BH2 amp. What's worse is that my LCD2.2s seem to eat the battery even faster – maybe 4 to 5 hours tops. This means that charging is a daily chore if I listen for two or three hours at night as I don't want the DAP to fail on me the next night mid-session. However, given the awesome SQ, I don't care – it is worth it.
Transparent: I am hearing thing that I have not heard before in music in a good way given the extreme transparency. The transparency must be a factor added by the clocks that are mentioned in the literature, but the noise is spooky gone and very noticeable. Once you get used to the transparency, it is hard to go back to the competition that once seemed quiet. This transparency creates a sound stage with massive space between and great timbre as mentioned before.
Musical: This is a new kind of musicality for me that I have not experienced in a hand held format before. Yes, I am doing the old cliché of listening to my music catalog anew as if it was for the first time getting lost in the music.
Hot/Hot/Hot: Yes, class A gets hot. Yes, class A stacked on another class A device gets even hotter together. No, I am not burning myself, but listening at night, I have to keep the stack away from my covers or I feel like I am in an oven given enough time. Yes, I woke up in a sweat when I fell asleep with the stack on the covers on my stomach.
No Opt/Coax Out: This is a feature that I use a lot with my AK and concerning not to have it on the M2 if I switched to an Aune stack. However, given the SQ, I will have to try using it as a source for my speakers to see what happens. Regardless, I use the digital out to test my music at Headfi meets don't want to color the sound in the units that I am testing. I would miss that functionality.
B1: At first glance using my CIEMs with the M2, I thought what is the point. The B1 sounds exactly the same as the family signature in the M2. However, bringing in the big cans, especially the LCD2.2, the point became quite clear.
High Volume/No Treble Glare: The M2 gets fatiguing at high volumes as the treble glare sets in, but I cannot go that high with my CIEMs to care. With the LCD/HD everything changes as I am playing in the higher volumes. Even though the amp sounds exactly the same, I can go as high as I want without any treble glare. Better yet, no distortion of any kind allowing me to move as close to the music as I wish. Turning up the volume doesn't make the sound louder, just bigger and closer with more detail. This is the must that I check for when buying high quality components ensuring headroom.
Looks: The B1 is nicer looking than the M2 and most of the other portable amps that I have seen. It is certainly not as small and convenient as my BH2, but is very neutral and transparent vs. the BH2 colored approach.
Bass: The bass on the B1 is very high quality, hard hitting, and transparent. I cannot see anyone complaining about the bass from bass heads to audiophiles.
Battery: The battery life on this A class device sucks just like the M2, but it is worth it for the SQ it produces. Again, it is about 7 hours and quite a bit less using my LCD2.2. But the LCD2.2 is driven as good as I have heard it with the B1.
M2 vs. AK100ii: The AK is a great DAP and I will not be selling it anytime soon. It is even better stacked with my BH1. However, having the M2 around, the AK is going to collect dust. The M2 + B1 is crazy good in SQ at desktop level and better than my AK + BH2 – period. On second thought, maybe I should sell the AK and use the funds to buy the M2 pro plus the B1 and use them as a package. If only I could hear the pro vs. the non-pro to see if it is worth the upgrade. Sorry AK, the Aune family is really that good.
Personal Conclusions: This is my personal thought process having heard the M2/B1.
M2 - Gotta Have It: This is a stand out in terms of SQ that I need to add to my arsenal. It is the best chain that I have heard for my LCD2.2 which have been collecting dust lately. It also matches my NT6pro and HD800 taking them to new levels of portability.
B1 – Gotta Have It: While this is only the second DAP that can get away stackless other than the PAW GOLD, it sounds better with my HD700 and especially my LCD2.2 when stacked with the B1. I absolutely do not need the B1 when going portable with my CIEMs – no need. However, much of my listening will be at night and likely now with my LCD2.2 so I will need to stack.
Finance: Given the price of my AK100ii is equivalent to the M2pro/B1 stack, I am considering swapping them out with a sale/purchase. However, given the short battery life of the Aune family, I am hesitant.
Battery: As much as I hate stacks, I have an Anker Astro E4 Classic 13000mAh Portable Charger that has two USB charging ports that can be added as a third component in the stack to keep both Aune products running long term. Then I can remove the Anker and charge independently every third or fourth day. Now that's a stack, ouch!
Sound Quality: Certain chains stand out as exceptional when paired with the right HPs. I like having variety in my signature which I have accomplished with a LCD2.2 at one end of the spectrum and an HD700 at the other end with my CIEMs being a good middle ground. These HPs pair well with my desktop and previously stood superior in that chain with the portable being an afterthought for convenience. The Aune stack has offered a new desktop quality SQ setup that provides a new signature that rivals my desktop while providing variety in signature. It is hard to describe the transparency that this provides without hearing it yourself. The transparent stacks that I have heard before all came at the expense of a sharp treble that I found fatiguing. Aune seems to have cured my treble fatigue through proper clocking and upped the game in SQ for portables in a big way.
Vs. Paw Gold: Going from memory, I want to believe that the PAW still beats the M2, but having spent time now with the M2, I am not so sure. I am anxiously awaiting the tour PAW to check my memory. Regardless, I can say with 100 percent certainty, the PAW Gold SQ increase is not worth the $1500 price difference to me. I would have to get a really good deal on the PAW to pay that much for a DAP that is at high risk for loss or damage when I can get 95 to 99 percent of its SQ with the Aune stack at $350 for the M2 and $150 more for the B1. I can stand to lose $500 even though it would hurt, but $2K is too much to risk for the PAW to leave my house eliminating much of its usability/value.
Vs. MOJO: Had the MOJO on my buy list, but the M2/B1 stack is going to replace it and be more versatile for my needs. The hesitation that I have had with the MOJO is that it is very close signature wise with my AK/BH2 stack. Therefore, I don't get excited when I listen, been there done that. So if there is no real improvement in SQ or difference in signature to what I already have, why buy the MOJO? The M2/B1 stack is very different to what I have so it provides me with greater versatility. Yes, I am going to say it – I also like the overall M2/B1 SQ better than the MOJO. Don't hate me, I just call them as I see them. That stack will save me $100 too, unless I go Pro, then I lose $50.
M2 vs. M2 Pro vs. M2S: This is the real outstanding question right now as nobody has the three to compare. The clocks made such a difference in the M2, that I am tempted to supersize them with the Pro version, but what would that add. Is the base clocks already good enough? The S version makes no sense to me given I have no idea what a Teflon PCB would do for SQ. Anyone? For me the real matchup is the M2 vs. the Pro. Please help with some specifics, anyone?
M2 Stacking Thoughts
At first, second, and third listen, using my Hidition NT6pro I was excited to hear a DAP that didn't need an amp to sound its best -"wow, no need for a stack here". But then I started listening with my HD700 and more so with my LCD2.2 and found that stacked, it reached desktop SQ allowing high volumes with no fatigue or distortion. Not only that, unlike cheap amps that get louder, brighter, and fatiguing with volume, this stack just makes the sound bigger, more detailed, and moves me closer to the action as I raise the volume. Being greedy for that last ounce of SQ, now I am unsure and will be going back to the NT6pro to finish my tour turn to see if it is worth the weight. In my use case, I am mainly using it in bed at night to fall asleep after obsessing about SQ for a while so weight doesn't overly matter, but here are some notes that might be useful:
B1 Stack Value: I value the M2 for it unique clean transparency with the best treble I have ever heard. No fatigue what so ever while providing full on treble goodness in detail and reach - plus that tight punchy bass and rich plucky textured mids. Adding the B1 provides these values:
Allows Higher Volumes: At higher volumes, the M2 starts to strain and gets that treble glare where it can become fatiguing. My interest in the M2 pro is to see if it resolves this with with an even better clock so your S version may be different. With the NT6pro being around 50 ohms it is easy to drive so I don't really typically play that loud given the CIEM isolation preferring to listen at low volume - so no issue for easy to drive CIEMs. This may be different for harder to drive CIEMs.
Mobile or Jamming: When moving around outside or enjoying a particular song, I do like to turn the volume way up for a short while. This is where the stack is of value to me with CIEMs and I will be testing further in the next couple of days.
Full Size Cans: So, while borderline for CIEMs, it is absolutely a value for full sized cans. Easily justified for me given my LCD2.2 which they drive wonderfully and best my much more expensive and elaborate desktop in the pairing. They will bring my LCD2.2 out of retirement.
Family Signature: The nice thing about the B1 is that it adds power and finesse without changing the perfected SQ that M2 already has. Considered using my BH2 instead, but it changes the signature away from what I like about the M2.
Stacking Considerations: The M2 and B1 make a pretty stack as they were built to stack together at the same size and shape.
Looks: The B1 is much prettier than the M2 adding looks to the equation.
Weight: They are very heavy together. The M2 is heavy alone and the B1 is equally as heavy so portable use requires planning.
Brushed Aluminum: The brushed metal on brushed metal has a damaging feeling/sound like grinding teeth. If I was to stack them with bands, I would absolutely need some cushion between to avoid damage. Velcro would probably work better, but is unclean when not stacked.
Battery: Probably a non-issue given the same battery life as the M2, but at 7 hours (or less with an LCD2.2), an extra battery pack becomes a consideration to keep going throughout the day for long term use or flights making it a triple stack. Battery packs like mine are big and heavy adding to the already considerable weight. For me laying it next to me in bed, no problem except for maneuvering to find the forward button given my button pushing habits.
This is a definite purchase for me. The question is now the regular, or the pro version that adds better clocks. If the added clarity of the upgraded clocks allow me to go without the stack or if the SQ improvement is obvious, I will go for the pro. However, I am likely to get the B1 too for my LCD2.2 which is a match made in heaven. Here are my final thoughts:
CIEMs: The M2 has no need of the B1. Go light.
LCD2s: Get the B1. Good without, but stellar with. The best I have heard the LCD2s in a long time including against most desktop configurations.
Battery: Sucks, but worth the hassle for this SQ.
UI: Good enough for my use case of choosing a folder and continuously hitting the forward, FF, or repeat button. However, I need to find a way to control without the screen turning on. Didn't have time to figure this one out, but anything would help with this short of battery life.